Urban Tropical Ecology in Singapore

Bit of a Lizzzy Day
by -- February 28th, 2017

(February 24) We had a bit of a late start this morning! Finally found myself being able to sleep in until about 7:30 A.M. We had breakfast around 9 A.M. and were off by 9:30.

We headed to the Alexandra Wetlands to collect more water samples for genetic analysis back at the Duke Marine Lab. The Alexandra Wetlands are located toward the end of the Alexandra Canal, a waterway that was transformed under Singapore’s Public Utilities Board’s (PUB) Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters or ABC Waters Programme into a recreational and community bonding area in just 2 years.

PUB is a statutory board under the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources; basically it is a part of the group we went to visit and get clearance for when Dr. Dan sent in a request to collect water samples almost a year ago. To continue on about the wetlands, the canal was made to further connect the community to the resource of water. The Alexandra Wetlands are pocket wetlands made to help us understand more about the flora and fauna that coexist together in helping create cleaner water. The part of the wetland that was subsurface flow has no water visible because it was flowing below the surface through a filter media which collects suspended solids. The roots of the plants then absorb any impurities in the water. In addition, there was a plot of vegetation that was a rain garden which collects rainwater run-off from paved areas. The impurities found  in this water are removed once it passes through the rain garden’s plants and soil. That filtered water then flows into the Alexandra Canal and eventually makes its way into the Marina Reservoir! Cool, right? We walked along the canal and saw various species of fish such as a Catfish, some turtles, and a few birds as well. When we made it to the wetlands area, we started looking a bit more closely at the water and the vegetation surrounding the area to see what creatures hid within the brush. Dr. Dan pointed out to us a few snake heads peeping out of the stalks and we even saw some more turtles up close with the Koi fish in the pond. All of these animals were not originally in this area but released or introduced by locals who may have had them as pets and could no longer keep them. The biological diversity in this wetland continues to grow. We finished up and collected water samples from 3 locations in the wetland — the front, the middle, and the end to see the effectiveness of the purification process of the wetland. Using the filter pad and the vacuum filter, we collected our three sets of data and were on our way to lunch! While they were creating the vacuum for the filtration, I wandered back to the wetland area to see what else I might be able to find and to take a few more pictures of the vegetation. While taking a few action shots of the fish, I turned around and staring right back at me was a water monitor lizard!

It scared me! I did not even hear it. I could not get close enough to get a good picture of it, but I did manage to snap a photo or two before it scrambled back under the wooded boardwalk that surrounded the rain garden. The lizards are one of my favorite animals to find here in Singapore! Not just because of their uniqueness, but because of their coloration and body structure, because for example, some have longer tails than others. After we finished filtering the water and I showed Dr. Dan my photos of the lizard, we jumped on Bus #51 and headed to the Alexandra Dr. food court area where I had a passion fruit smoothie and shrimp dumplings with noodles! Nothing too bizarre and different this day for cuisine, but it tasted pretty delicious :). I love that I am able to have passion fruit here in Singapore, not only because it is my all-time favorite fruit next to raspberries, but it is always so fresh!

I headed back to the hotel after lunch with Dr. Dan and Tom because I had some work that I wanted to do and wanted to get started on this blog because it was my “official” day to blog our trip. It continued raining though, but the rain was nice. It thundered a bit; I love when it thunders during a rain storm. At 5:15 P.M. we were meeting in the lobby I believe to head to the NUS (National University of Singapore)’s campus at the School of Design and the Environment for another lecture by Dr. Dan!

We had our lecture on the questionable success of the environmental conservation of Chek Jawa by Dr. Dan. The title of his presentation was “Remember Chek Jawa Lessons for the Straights of Jahor–Predicting and Planning for Change.” The overarching question however, was “How do you inform policy with science?”. Dr. Dan has studied Chek Jawa for several years now and has seen its decline in biodiversity over time due to things like development and climate change (which are the most significant factors). After the huge monsoon season that had occurred in Singapore in December 2006 with a meter of water in only 5 days, there was an detrimentally high amount of freshwater that ended up in the marine ecosystem that existed in Chek Jawa. The Jahor River, in addition to the monsoon, had dumped most of the freshwater creating a freshwater lens that settled on Chek Jawa at every low tide. Carpet anemones, normally a common organism found in these parts, were totaled in August 2002 to be 112 +/- 4 that were 40 cm in diameter. By October 2008 however, after the monsoons and the developments along the Jahor River, only 2, yes 2, medium sized carpet anemones that measured to be 15-19 cm in diameter were found in the transect area. Mussels, tube worms, and cake sand dollars had become the abundant species in the area; illustrating the extreme decline of biodiversity in Chek Jawa that once was flourishing with carpet anemones, peacock anemones, sea stars (4 different species), sea cucumbers and other Echinoderms (15 species), and mollusks.

How long is Chek Jawa going to be like this?

-Unknown qtd. by Dr. Dan

From this decline what can we predict? How long will it take? Will this go on forever? Unfortunately, Chek Jawa’s biodiversity has been destroyed and will not be coming back from about 100 years. It will continue to lose its biodiversity because with continuous development and poor prevention policies and actions only pollutant and sedimentation resistant biodiversity will emerge in the area. This is the inevitable. If the region surrounding Chek Jawa, the communities off the Jahor River, continue to develop then Chek Jawa will lose its biodiversity. It may be gone in a decade but at maximum, it may be 30 years. But this is why we need to incorporate comparables in these situations.

Yes, comparables, like real-estate. (Sites where we can compare this situation to in order to determine the resulting valuation of the costs or benefits.) Does that make sense? We need to compare the biodiversity issue and the influence of development and climate change in Chek Jawa to places like Qingdao (China), Venice (Italy), New York City (NY), and Hong Kong. These areas may be bigger than Singapore, but their issues are the same. Their natural resources, in this case, water, is being threatened by the same factors. Qingdao has a dead zone just like the Gulf of Mexico, its dead zone is 11,000 mi^2 versus the U.S. Gulf of Mexico’s which is only 8,000 mi^2 (and growing). Imagine, only A CITY causing a greater size dead zone than a few states bordering the body of water that is the Gulf of Mexico. The nutrient loading is extremely high. Therefore we need these comparables in comparing international areas ahead or behind in history in order to prevent significant environmental issues from occurring due to development. If we have these comparables, we are able to hold on to areas like Chek Jawa, we are able to hold on to our environment, our Earth. We cannot just cap these areas, put sediment cores down, and put people on top of these contaminated areas. That does not solve the problem. Tin is found in the water off Hong Kong, specifically in the sediment. What happened? They capped it, put an impervious barrier over it and built houses on it. Efficient right? Well, in my view it’s not. If we let go of this idea of comparables and just put people on this land, what is the greatest risk we are really taking here? Our environment? Or, people’s lives?

This is where the discussion of ethics and the environment emerge. If you do not believe in a balance between intrinsic and humanistic value of this world, then the effective idea of using temperable comparables would not be your answer to the question quoted above that was asked 15 years ago at a roundtable discussion by one of Singapore’s officials regarding the current state of Chek Jawa. If comparables is not your answer, then what would be?

Copyright © Briana Kleiner 2017

(Taken from my blog from my travels! Read more at: https://iampocketsized.wordpress.com )

 

2 Comments

  1. Darlene
    Mar 2, 2017

    That was so interesting and informative.

  2. Jo-nathan
    Mar 3, 2017

    You’re travels are quite intriguing; that water monitor must’ve given you are fright.

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